Behold, the Three-Point Field Goal

Golden State Warriors v Dallas Mavericks

We’ve all seen it. That half-oval on either side of a basketball court, the one that surrounds the key. It’s beautiful, and aesthetically holds the court together. But a closer look at basketball rules reveals that it’s more than just the line where you “take it out” in a half court game. Shots made behind this line are worth three points.

To truly appreciate the three-point field goal, one must understand how much more this is worth than a regular field goal. It’s hard to explain, but this diagram makes it simple*:

Three Point Diagram

At this point, you’re probably thinking, “Big deal, it’s worth just one more point.” This sentiment makes sense if you’re used to football, where a one-point kick is much more likely than a two-point conversion. But in basketball, two-point and three-point shots are made in the exact same way. Think about that a minute.

“But in basketball, two-point and three-point shots are made in the exact same way. Think about that a minute.”

If this were football, it’d be as if you could score a two-point conversion by kicking a little further out. Wouldn’t teams try that every time? But even that scenario sells the three-point field goal short. It’d be like football having a special touchdown worth 9 points. Yes, a three-point field goal is worth a whopping 50% more than a two-point field goal, and you can use it on any possession.

“Yes, a three-point field goal is worth a whopping 50% more than a two-point field goal, and you can use it on any possession.”

“Come on,” you retort, “This has to be a harder shot to make.”  But with the three-point field goal, it doesn’t even matter. Let’s look at a scenario of two basketball teams:

Let’s say Team A and Team B play a game of basketball where each team takes 100 shots. If Team A shoots 50% on two-point field goals, they will make 50 shots and score 100 points. If Team B shoots only three-pointers, they can win with just 34 shots. Team B can miss 16 more field goals and still win the game*.

Are you understanding how big this is?

“Are you understanding how big this is?”

It seems so obvious. But that’s because today we have computers. This whole article couldn’t have happened without a computer, especially the statistical content. When the NBA introduced the three-point line in 1979, they didn’t have the mathematical technology to understand how valuable it was.

Don’t believe me? The first season that NBA teams averaged more than one made three-pointer a game? 1986-1987. The graphing calculator was introduced in 1985, and it took them almost two years to incorporate the new technology. There was a huge spike in 3’s in 1994, thanks to the introduction of Netscape. Now teams could math statistics using an internet browser. But it wasn’t until the iPad in 2010 when teams could take statistics with them. You could actually do math at the game.

And don’t forget that three-point marksmen like  Stephen Curry grew up with computers and the internet. He could use Excel to see the value of the three-point field goal, then talk about it with other people in chat rooms and message boards.

The three-point field goal is an amazing aspect of basketball, and now we have the technology to comprehend it. And with the rise of consumer electronics, who knows what we will learn, or what basketball will look 5, 10, or even 3 years into the future? I can’t wait to find out…but in the meantime, I’ll be lighting it up at my local YMCA with three-point field goals.

*For simplicity’s sake, this article does not address the free throw, which makes things more complicated and deserves a whole column to itself. 

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